July 01, 2010

Notre Dame Basketball Update: Thoughts on ND-Gonzaga, ND-Kentucky, the new Big East schedule, Luke Harangody, Eric Atkins, and the 2010-2011 team.

Death, taxes, and the annual WEISND summer Notre Dame hoops update! You can practically set your watch to it.

It's been a few months since the season ended, so let's take a peek at some of the big issues/storylines that have popped up recently surrounding your Notre Dame men's basketball program.

(1) Nonconference scheduling

For my money, this is shaping up to be the best nonconference schedule ND has played since I started following the program in 1998. We might actually have an opportunity to come out of OOC play with a solid RPI number this year.

Here's what we have so far:

(1) Notre Dame-Gonzaga at the JACC on December 11

How about that little matchup right there?? Not too shabby. Here is Gonzaga's RPI in the last five years:

2010 - 36
2009 - 26
2008- 34
2007 - 60
2006 - 12

Ok, it's not Duke or anything, but you can all but guarantee that Gonzaga is going to be a top 30-40 type team on the RPI grid and probably ranked in or near the AP Top 25. They have become one of the premier mid-majors in the nation, and always schedule adventurously in nonconference play. Walter.com has the Zags at #24 going into next year. And Andy Katz has them at #9. Could be a big game.

I would actually rather play more teams like Gonzaga on the schedule than games against teams like North Carolina or Duke or UCLA or Kentucky (more on that in a minute). It's a good game for RPI/perception purposes, and more importantly, it's a winnable game. I would guess the betting line for that game will be around Gonzaga -3.5 depending on how both teams look early on. A tough game no doubt, but winnable. Going to Cameron Indoor and losing by 15 to Duke doesn't really do much for me. I'd rather play somebody like Gonzaga.

(2) Notre Dame-Kentucky at Freedom Hall on December 8 for the Big East/SEC Classic

Our fans have been clamoring for more Duke/UCLA/Kentucky type "big games" in nonconference play, but I'm not sure if this game is really that great for us. Kentucky is going to be super talented, and the game is going to be played in Louisville.

Great "neutral" site choice of Louisville. Absurd. If 20,000 UK fans and 50 ND fans (including David Graves) is considered "neutral," then I need to get out my Websters and look up that definition again.

Maybe we'll catch Kentucky at the right time and steal a win when all their freshmen are still gelling, but it just feels like it's going to be awfully tough to get a win there. Kentucky is bringing in four 5 star recruits and two 4 stars. Insane. Calipari is a recruiting machine.

I realize that this is the Big East/SEC classic and that we don't have a lot of say in selecting the games, but I think I'd rather play somebody like Vanderbilt to shoot for a win against a decent team for RPI purposes. Let Syracuse play Kentucky in the "heavyweight" made-for-tv battle.

Playing elite teams is fun, but it's only worth it from an NCAA Tournament standpoint if we win the game. Playing Kentucky and losing does nothing for us. Sure it's better than playing Kenesaw State, but you move up the RPI ladder with wins.

If we want to get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament, we need WINS. Period. Right now, ND basketball is what it is. We are a solid 30-40 type program that can compete with anyone on a given night and should make the NCAA Tournament most years, but we aren't Duke or Carolina or Kentucky. Those games are the types of games that we'll lose most years.

(3) Notre Dame-Georgia in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving in Florida (also in the field are Boston College, Cal, Manhattan, Temple, Texas A&M, Wisconsin).

According to Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune, we are playing Georgia in the first round of the Old Spice Classic. Might as well put in a plug for Tom Noie's Twitter while I'm here. It's pretty much the best Notre Dame basketball information source out there. He always has great scoops and little nuggets about the hoops program, and it's easy to follow. I also would recommend that long article he wrote about Mike Brey in the George Washington Magazine as well.

Anyway, Andy Katz actually has Georgia as one of his sleeper teams this year and has them in his preseason top 25. Apparently they have a couple stud young guns, and Mark Fox might have something going down there in Athens. I won't even pretend to know anything about Georgia, but I'll take Andy's word for it. Then again, they went 13-16 last year and 5-11 in the SEC with nonconference losses to Wofford and St. Johns. Certainly a winnable game.

If we win that game, Noie is saying that we'll play Cal. Beat the Bears, and it's possibly Temple in the final game. No idea if it will play out that way, but I would be very happy to play all three of those games for schedule strength purposes.

Does anyone know if the Old Spice Classic has a consolation bracket if we lose early?? That would actually be nice in case we lose.

So there you have it from a nonconference scheduling standpoint. Gonzaga, Kentucky, Georgia, and maybe Cal and Temple. That could turn out to be pretty good. Gonzaga is a home game, so fans should be excited for that one.

If we were really feeling frisky, we should try to set up a couple decent "buy games" with MAC type teams and maybe somebody like Duquesne. Get them to come to South Bend, win the game, and get a couple nice 100-150 RPI wins on the schedule. The difference between playing somebody like Duquesne and somebody like Stony Brook is substantial for the RPI.

I won't hold my breath on that one though. Brey has been here for ten years, and has never done that. I expect the rest of the schedule to be a bunch of 250+ RPI dregs on the cheap. Guess the expense isn't worth it for the athletic budget guys running things.

I'll predict that we come out of nonconference play with 2 losses and a fairly respectable RPI, but probably not the type of RPI that would get us a great seed for the NCAAs.

(2) The Big East schedule

The Big East also released the Notre Dame conference schedule. Let's take a peek:

Home: Cincy, UCONN, GTown, L'Ville, Marquette, RU, SJU, SHU, Nova

Away: UCONN, Depaul, Marquette, Pitt, Prov, SJU, USF, Syr. WVU

(Two-fers are UConn, Marquette, and St. Johns)

The good news is that I don't think those two-fers are too bad. UConn is actually kind of a mess right now, Marquette lost Lazar Hayward, and I think Steve Lavin is getting waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much hype at St. Johns. People do realize he had absurdly loaded rosters and underperformed every year right?? I mean, I have grown to love Steve Lavin after watching him all these years with Brent Musberger on ESPN Big Ten games, but I'm not completely sold on his ability to turn St. Johns into a powerhouse program in the Big East anytime soon. It's a tough tough world in this league, and he's not selling UCLA anymore on the recruiting trail.

The road schedule looks pretty tough. Games at UConn, Marquette, Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia is rough (plus our inevitable letdown loss at SJU or South Florida).

Tough to say on the home schedule. Some big names on there, but not sure what UConn and Louisville are going to look like.

The consensus early on is that the following teams will probably be ranked in the preseason: Pitt, Villanova, Georgetown, Syracuse. We have two of them at home and two on the road.

Just a guess here, but I'll say we go 7-2 at home and 3-6 on the road for a total of 10-8 in the league. Maybe 11-12 wins pop up if everything breaks right, but I'd go with 10-8 for now.

(3) Big East looking at Memphis and Central Florida??

There were some reports a few weeks ago during the conference realignment talk about the Big East adding Memphis and Central Florida to "strengthen" their position in the landscape.

First, I think that statement on its face is a little iffy. Memphis has a good basketball program historically, but they are also one of the biggest renegade programs in the country. UCF is just a wacky pick. Here's what they've done in hoops the last five years:

2010 - 14-16
2009 - 17-13
2008 - 16-14
2007 - 22-8
2006 - 13-14

In other words, you're basically adding a .500 program from the Conference USA. And it's not like either school brings anything to the football table either.

Going to 18 teams would be a mistake. There are already too many teams in the Big East as it is now. How would you schedule with 18 teams??

For ND, adding Memphis would just be another hurdle for us to get to the NCAA Tournament. I don't want to move down the pecking order even farther than we already are. Maybe Memphis wouldn't get it done in the Big East, but there's a lot of talent in their backyard. Going to the Big East would probably help them in recruiting.

If we have more conference expansion and a couple Big East teams like Pitt and Syracuse leave, I'd rather just see the basketball-only schools break off and form our own league. Give me ND,Gtown, St. Johns, Marquette, DePaul, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and add on Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis, Temple. That would be one heckuva league.

I don't want any part of an 18 team Big East, especially with two less than thrilling acquisitions. All it does is dilute the product, and stick us into an even more crowded picture than we are already in now.

(4) No more double bye in the Big East Tournament

Seems like the format changes every year for this thing, but good move by the Big East to get rid of the double bye in the Big East Tournament. It almost has become a disadvantage to be a top seed in the Big East Tournament because you sit and wait for a couple days while the lower-seeded teams build up some momentum earlier in the week.

This format will have all 16 teams play in the first round. The top 4 seed against the bottom four seeds on Tuesday (1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, etc) and the middle 8 teams on Wednesday (5 vs 12, 4 vs 13, etc)

I would guess that the power programs wanted this. Everyone gets a game early, then you move into the quarterfinals on Thursday and go from there. Seems like it will produce fewer upsets.

(P.S. - If you're going to Vegas this year for the conference tournaments, might want to keep this in mind. I always liked to ride the hot underdog that gets a game or two under its belt early. If the big names are getting early games too, it dilutes that 'hot hand" factor. Then again, maybe the big names don't care about the conference tourneys and still will drop out early every year (see The Michigan State Spartans).

(5) Luke Harangody to the Celtics

I'm happy that Luke got drafted by the Celtics. Good fit for him, and they'll like him as a lunch pail type.

I'm not going to pretend to be an NBA guy, but the consensus that you seem to hear from people who know the league is that you need to do one thing well to survive (and stay healthy of course). It will be interesting to see what path Luke takes to carve out a niche in the league. He seems to think that he needs to hit the 18-20 footer to make it in the league, but I think he's better suited to be an energy guy who bangs and scraps and uses his body and overall basketball intelligence to scrap for points and rebounds off the bench. If he's got an open 20 footer, fine. Take it. But do the brunt of your work by selling out your body in the paint.
Will he get stuffed badly on occasion?? Sure, but I watched this guy bang successfully against bigger guys for four years. Gody has some of the best feet and hands I've seen for a big man, and he's got the heart to hang in there. Standing out on the perimeter is not his game.

No excuse for him to be so soft defensively though. If you want to make it in the NBA, you gotta be willing to guard somebody. I can't really say Gody did that at ND.

Either way, I'm rooting for him to succeed. I realize that people were a little turned off by his play in 2010 and are ready for a Ewing Theory moment in 2010, but the guy was an all-time great at ND and probably was the best player I've seen at ND since I've been following the team. Step back from his flaws and remember all the things that he did well.

I think he can make it in the league. Good luck Luke.

(6) How is 2010-2011 looking??

This is probably the deepest and most versatilie team we've had in a long time. Lots of interesting possibilities in terms of playing time and lineups. I could see this lineup on opening day:

PG - Atkins
SG - Hansbrough
SF - Abromaitis
PF - Scott
C - Nash

Bench: Martin, Brooks, Cooley, Broghammer, Knight

or this one

PG - Hansbrough
SG - Martin
SF - Abromaitis
PF - Scott
C - Nash

or even this one

PG - Atkins
SG - Hansbrough
SF - Martin/Abro/Scott
PF - Nash
C - Cooley

Three big keys from a lineup standpoint:

(1) Atkins -- Obviously a lot going to depend on what he can do. If he's ready, I'd go with him at point guard. He's give us some quickness on the perimeter. I can't take our team seriously with Hansbrough and Martin as our starting guards. Just not enough defensive capability there. At least give me the HOPE that we can defend. With two white guys on the perimeter, I can't even have that.

If Atkins can't go, throw Hansbrough in at point guard. I have no doubt that Hansbrough would be a very good point guard in the Big East, so it's a good option to have.

I'll assume that we start the season with Hansbrough at point guard and hopefully work Atkins into the mix by Big East play.

(2) The wing spots -- How are the minutes going to be distributed at the wing spots?? Is Martin going to start right away?? How is Abromaitis going to look this year after playing great for most of the year and then fading down the stretch?? Is Carl Scott ready to make the leap and become a superstar?? Is Joey Brooks capable of giving us an intriguing look at shooting guard off the bench??

I think I'd try to get all of the big three (Abro, Scott, Martin) about 25 minutes a game. No need to create an iron man group this year. All these guys can contribute in their own way. Martin is highly-skilled and can rebound a little bit, Scott is an athletic freak with moxie and a defensive presence, and Abro is a lights out shooter. Why not just play them all and ride the hot hand depending on needs??

I am a huge Mike Brey fan, but it will be really disappointing if Coach Brey just rides 6 guys all year with this team. We are capable of going 8-9 deep with lots of different matchup combinations. We should use that depth and versatility to our advantage.

Having said that, I am fully prepared to see Brey run out Hansbrough, Martin, Scott, Abro, Nash for 35 minutes a game with a couple minutes sprinkled in for Cooley, Brooks, and Atkins.

(3) The Bigs

Should be interesting to see what we do inside. No Harangody this year, but I thought Nash really came on strong at the end of last year. Nash has to be a starter as far as I'm concerned.

I also expect Scott to be down in the post for defensive and rebounding purposes.

But what about Cooley and Brog?? Don't we have to get a couple beefy guys in there to bang and give up fouls?? I think we gotta find 10-15 minutes a game for each of those guys.

And if Cooley suddenly looks like a stud in the fall, I'd even think about bumping his minutes into the 20-25 minute range. A big lineup with Scott, Nash, Cooley would actually be intriguing.

Bottom line, I want Brey to treat the preseason as a very fluid situation and experiment with a bunch of different combinations and lineups. Make it a priority to play a different lineup every game, and see what gels.

Could be an exciting season. Hopefully the Irish are playing in the NCAA Tournament again in March 2011.


OC Domer said...

Nicely done! That's an impressively early season preview.

Anonymous said...

If there was ever a time for ND to play a TEN-man rotation, it's now. Obviously that all depends, but they could rotate front-court players all game long, all season long with next year's roster. I mean isn't that why Brey brought in those three big white guys a year ago? None seem like they'll be anything close to stars, but all three seem like they could bang, rebound, defend, give up fouls and set screens, and score a little here and there. Which is a good thing to have.

As to the wing/perimeter players, all the incoming frosh seem like comers, and Atkins will probably have to play some serious minutes at PG, won't he? Is Hansbrough going to be a starting PG? I guess is if old boy from Duke can do it, then so can Hansbrough. But I think we'd all take it and run with it if Atkins took off from the get-go.

Next year should be exciting and interesting. Who knows what will happen.

Jimmy said...

Brey's track record doesn't remotely suggest that he will suddenly "get it" and start using his bench how most top coaches use it. Brey opts for to use his 10 game stroll through cupcake land to pad the starters' numbers and get there legs ready for the Big East grind (which in effect wears out there legs at the end of said grind).

The day he starts tinkering with different lineups to maximize what's on his roster will be the first day. Not a knock (well okay, it is a knock) but a realistic expectation.

Jimmy said...

Heard some encouraging news this morning re: Luke's potential for sustained success in the NBA. A co-worker (who goes to Illinois State and never watched Harangody in college) helped run a few of the stations at the rookie combine a few weeks back in Chicago. He mainly worked at the bench press and vertical jump stations and watched some of the shooting drills.

He was really impressed with Harangody shooting lights out, even from NBA 3-point range. The Mongoose also put up the most reps on the bench, doing 23 (or 24) reps of 185 lbs. Cousins did one fewer. My co-worker was surprised how far he fell in the draft until I mentioned his sieve-like tendencies on defense. But still, Gody will carve out a niche for himself in the NBA if he remains a workout nut, knocks down open looks and leads his team in Dutch Boy hustle points. Brian Cardinal might as well pass on his knee pads to Gody.

Anonymous said...

Each team in the Old Spice tournament gets 3 games, so it's the round robin style with losers/winners brackets.

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